Wrong & Right | Mark Goodwin

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Photograph by Nikki Clayton

I feel compelled to tell others about two difficult moments I have experienced … but somehow I don’t think that I can write poetry about what I feel compelled to tell … I’m not keen on writing prose … prose fixes things too much for me, whereas poetry is open … and I often feel pompous with prose, as if I’m making statements that of course can be smashed … with poetry, all flows, bends, dissolves, re-appears … and it seems to me my ego can lay no claims to another’s – reader’s – imagination … but prose … well, I don’t trust prose … certainly not my own … or at least I have tended not to … however, of late I’ve learned that just writing how things were, or are, in prose, does not have to fix, or hold ideas down … and sometimes the stable ground of prose is the only way to proceed, the only way to say certain things, and sometimes the ‘art’ of poetry cannot say such things … one cannot begin through poetry to try to tell of certain things … it feels like … stealing … and the usual expansive feeling of creativity that begins the making of poetry is somehow unobtainable, even though there is so much vivid feeling & detail, which is usually the very stuff that starts poems … the underlying drive is there, but it is cut short by a feeling of some kind of forbiddenness … I’ve not worked out why exactly I can’t make poems from certain moments, why it feels wrong … I don’t know the right answer … but I’m not sure what would be a wrong answer either … anyway, here is what I want to tell:

Years & years ago, when I lived in The Lake District, a climber called Luke Steer told me how he had found a ewe with her eyes gone, and that he had had to kill her. He used a boulder. Luke said that it was one of the most difficult things he had ever done, certainly the most horrible. And so, for years I have feared that one day in the hills I’d encounter a sheep so ravaged and in agony that I wouldn’t be able (allowed?) to just walk away – that I would have to ‘put’ the beast ‘out of its misery’, as they say.

I’m not entirely sure it is the right thing to do; perhaps us humans make an assumption about ‘misery’ & ‘agony’, and perhaps other creatures would prefer to cling to life no matter what, for as long as possible. And so perhaps I did wrong. But, yes, this last July, on the south-eastern ridge that goes up to Moel Eilio (just before the peak Foel Gron) in Snowdonia, I found a young ewe whose belly was ridden with maggots. And one of her hooves was twisted half off. She could hardly move, her gasps were frail and slow, and her snout was red raw and crawling with flies. Nearby there was the ‘perfect’ stone: a long shaft of rock, whose weight & length made for easy momentum. She was already very sluggish … my thwacks dazed her more … but she did cry … and so did I … and her legs trembled and kicked weakly. Of course, sheep’s skulls are incredibly hard, as is evident from the way they butt each other. The swinging stone & my shaking self could not kill her … so, I took some of her own wool, that had come loose from her and was lying nearby, and I pressed it into her nostril … and I pressed her snout into the short grass … daftly I kept uttering ‘Go beast, just go.’ Eventually, her frail grasping to breathe subsided. Instantly, her cornea blurred, the gleam vanished, and the flies, with jewel-green abdomens, immediately crawled all over her eye.

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Photograph by Nikki Clayton

I’m a farmer’s son. I’ve killed many cat-damaged birds, mice & rabbits, and other small badly broken creatures … but killing a creature so big … I don’t know why it should be so different … but the energy of such a tough beast, such a resilient hill creature … it is very very hard to come up against … and I’m not sure that I did right … accept that I think I responded honestly to a feeling we call ‘compassion’ … but I’m not sure it makes it the right thing to have done …

… another incident years ago: when my partner Nikki & I witnessed a young man jump in front of a lorry on the M1 just before junction 28 (on the hillside that falls to the River Erewash) … perhaps I need to write that again … yes, we saw a young man kill himself by facing an oncoming lorry … I stopped my car on the hard-shoulder and ran back up what seemed like such a long steep slope … I passed other motorists who had pulled over and were sitting motionless and shocked … the artic-lorry that had hit the young man stood alone beyond traffic backing up behind it … in front the motorway was still … and the young dead man lay absolutely still too … he looked so so heavy … at the time I imagined the surface of the road bending under his weight …

… and perhaps that imagining – in the moment – is all the poetry that can come of experiencing such an event … and for me, probably, I needed the company – the protection – of my familiar art in that moment, and needed to make something of what I was experiencing … but I can’t make that image go further, or rather ‘take’ that image further … and I can’t take a poem from this moment …

The lorry driver was a man called Terry. I remember his bewildered gentleness and fear as he gave evidence in a court room in Chesterfield. Terry saved my life. Nikki & I were passing the front of his lorry just at the moment the young man hit it. Had Terry swerved or hit his brakes too hard, I’m sure that Nikki & I, and quite a few other drivers & passengers would’ve been tumbled, with our vehicles crumpling round us. The judge clearly stated how well Terry had done – despite his suddenly being presented with a horrible emergency he had kept his artic-lorry in a straight line. Terry had to decide to drive straight on into that poor young man. I have no doubts that Terry, that day, did everything right …


Mark Goodwin’s new poetry collection,
Steps, will be published by Longbarrow Press on 24 November 2014.  Click here to visit the Steps microsite.

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One Comment on “Wrong & Right | Mark Goodwin”

  1. kp says:

    These are very strong moments of death that you have experienced. Despite your misgivings about writing in prose, you describe them here in a way that takes me into them. Thank you


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